Kim Hall, Author at Engaged Marriage - Page 3 of 5

All Posts by Kim Hall

About the Author

Kim Hall created Too Darn Happy to help you build stronger and more joyful relationships through offerings of fresh perspectives and practical advice. Having been a wife for thirty years and a mom for almost as long to two daughters, she also shares occasional cautionary tales of her own character building life experiences. Kim recently authored her first ebook, Practicing Gratitude and Discovering Joy-Thirty Days to a Happier You. You can connect with Kim on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, too!

5 Workplace Lessons for a Healthier Marriage

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

5 Workplace Lessons for a Healthier
Have you ever worked for a dysfunctional company?

Odds are you have, and you probably were very unhappy.

By the same token, if you have been blessed to work for a terrific company, you probably really enjoyed your time there.

As someone who has experienced both, I have learned there are practices that successful companies have in common.

In the years since we said, “I do!” my husband and I found these practices could be applied in our personal lives to keep our marriage strong.

Through our words and our actions, we have modeled these for our daughters to use in their relationships as well.

From our home to yours, here are five lessons from the workplace for a healthier marriage.

1.  Practice good manners.  Being polite, avoiding embarrassing others, and practicing discretion are just a few of the good manners that build trust and gratitude. These go a long way towards forging strong relationships, and are equally important at work and at home.  While this may seem to be a no-brainer, business people often tend to treat one another with more grace and thoughtfulness than they treat their spouses. Take some time this week to check on the manners you use with the person that matters most to you.

2.  Spend time and money on education.  No matter how long you’ve been married, there are always things you can learn to improve your relationship. Likewise, successful companies invest in their employees because they know it will pay dividends down the road. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend lots of time or money to gain this information. For example, if you aren’t a subscriber to Engaged Marriage yet, sign up here to get the very best tips to help you live a married life you love. The resource page is chock-full of great suggestions, too.

You can also attend events, such as those put on by Winshape Marriage or Family Life. My husband and I attended the Family Life Weekend to Remember a few years ago, and also did the Art of Marriage event, and we recommend both enthusiastically, whether you are engaged, fairly newly married, or you’ve been together for decades.

3.  Take time to recharge. This is a simple and powerful principle, whether you are skipping lunches at work or vacations at home. A change of scenery does wonders to clear the mind and refresh the spirit. Plus, a less stressed person is able to think more clearly and respond in more creative and healthy ways. You can take walks around the block, spend a weekend away, or book a luxurious cruise to a warmer climate. For terrific ideas on date nights, check out these suggestions from The Dating Divas.

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4.  Have something to look forward to. To stay interested in and engaged with either your job or your marriage, you must have things to look forward to. Author Jeff Goins wrote recently that having something to look forward to keeps the monotony at bay. He recommends having “A common goal, something to anticipate, (that) can bring you together in ways that the daily grind won’t.” Depending on the stage of your marriage—newlyweds, new parents, empty nesters—a weekly coffee date or short walk with just the two of you may be all you can manage, and may be enough for the short term. What’s important is that you look forward to this joint goal with joy.

5.  Make your marriage a priority. As the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Thriving businesses understand there’s more to life than work, and they strive to be as flexible and accommodating as possible to help individuals make time for the other important things in their lives. Making your marriage a priority will help you weather life’s storms. That strong bond doesn’t develop, though, without taking regular and intentional steps.

You get to choose daily how to act towards and react to your spouse. When you apply these five lessons from the workplace to your relationship, you will be laying the groundwork for a healthy marriage that will delight you in good times and sustain you through the hard ones.

 Question: What lessons from the workplace for a healthier marriage would you add to this list?


6 Questions to ask before saying “I Do!” to college loans

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

6 Questions to ask before saying I Do to college loansHow is it possible you are thinking about and discussing college preparation, possible school choices, and potential education costs with your children?

Didn’t you just graduate?

It may seem like just yesterday you were considering those decisions for yourself, but times have changed, and so have the stakes:

College costs have risen dramatically—1,220% in the last thirty-five years.

Only a little over half of first-time, full-time students—59%—graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and they do so within six years, not four.

Many graduates struggle with loan payback because the relationship to the earning power of the degree or finding a job wasn’t considered.

Large amounts of education debt are keeping first time house buyers from stepping into home ownership.

About a third of millenials regret their decision to go to college.

Given this bracing splash of information, don’t launch that “Where do I sign?” ceremony just yet.

Instead, here are 6 questions to ask before you say “I Do!” to college loans.

A disclaimer: My husband and I believe children need to be financially responsible for a major portion, if not all, of their education, as there is a lot to be said for having a stake in the game. We also believe there are ways other than college to accomplish learning and skill-building, especially since debt-freedom helps provide a firm foundation upon which to build their lives. Finally, we believe a typical higher education doesn’t automatically provide a good value, and/or may not be the best path for a student. That’s why asking quality questions and doing your due diligence is so important.

1.  Who is ultimately paying for college?

Student? Parent? Are you sharing the responsibility? Whose name will actually be on the dotted line?  Instead of being the borrower, you can be the lender to your children, but be aware of the potential it has to cause some serious relationship and monetary problems. If your children are young and you’re thinking ahead, kudos! Dustin shares about investing—or not—for college here.

2.  What is the total amount of the school loan?

Equally important, what will the payments be? To get an idea, use an online loan calculator. If your debt load is average (2013), you’ll owe about $35,000 beginning six months after you graduate or quit school.

That translates roughly to between $400-$500 a month for ten years, based on interest rates that range from 6.9% to over 11%. Your actual total payback would average around $48,000 to $60,000. You wouldn’t finance a $35,000 car for ten years. Why would you consider financing your education for that long? Of course, there are financial institutions that refinance student loans which can help in the long run. Think about how, where, and even if this expense will fit into your overall budget.

3.  Where will you choose to go to college?

With over 7,000 establishments of higher education in the U.S., you have a veritable cornucopia of choice. Each has their benefits, depending on your needs and wants, and all of that comes at a cost. Many students spend their first two years at a community college because of the proximity to home and lower tuition, then spend their last two years at a larger institution.

You can do what my sister, the math teacher, did for her daughter when she was considering different schools. Take the total cost, fees and all, for the year, and divide that by the days in the academic calendar, which is usually around 150-160 days. That figure is the cost of the education per day. I think you and your student will find this a real eye-opener for helping to determine value, just as my niece did.

4.  When is the money needed?

Usually the first term’s full payment is due just prior to the start of the school year. But, step back for a moment and think about this: Does college need to start right after high school? Your student may opt for deferred admission, sometimes called a Gap Year. It allows time to work, save, travel, volunteer, and especially, mature.

Your student can be a Feb, a nickname given to students who begin in the spring term. When Middlebury College in Vermont studied freshman who started in the fall vs the spring they discovered, “The Febs not only had higher GPAs, but the positive effects lasted all four years.”

5.  Why are you going to college?

This is the biggest question of all, because you are paying a very high premium for those formative years: money out, typically no real-world work experience in. The hope, of course, is that the value of the degree will accrue as the years pass.

Here are what I consider bad reasons to say “I do!” to loans and college: your family expects you to go, your classmates are all going, your teachers tell you to, the world shouts you’ll be a failure without a degree, and you don’t have any idea what you want to do with your life.

If you’re not sure where else you’d go or what you’d do instead, consider these interesting eleven alternatives, or read Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree. To help get to the bottom of your Why, go through this exercise here.

 6.  How will you pay for the education?

Your choices are many: private or public lenders, scholarships, grants, and your own savings. Here’s a thought: What if it were possible to pay as you go, and graduate debt free? This young man explains how he did, and how you can too, via his book: Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents. It’s important that your financial plans not be dominated by education financing at the expense of other goals, to quote one of the book’s reviewers.

Going to college is taking a leap of faith that the time and money you spend will result in greater future personal, financial, and career success.  Asking these 6 questions before you say “I Do!” to college loans will help you make the right decision, at the right time, in the right place, and for the right reasons for your family.

Question: What have you used to help make decisions about paying for college?

Photo credit: Ano Lobb

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Essential moving tools to save your back, your sanity, and maybe even your marriage

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

essential moving toolsTis the season to be moving, fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, UGH.

Over 40 million people will move to a new home this year, and when you throw in parents moving children to a college dorm there is plenty of pain and frustration to go around.

I have some essential moving tools to help you get through the task with more joy and less stress. Whether you’re hiring interstate movers or doing it yourself, these moving tools will make your move that little bit easier!

I think it was at least three houses ago my husband and I declared: This is it. We are never moving again. We are done. When we leave, they will be carrying us out in a box. 

Not only did we continue to move, but this last time we packed our cars and a twenty-eight foot trailer to the roof and headed 1,000 miles south to the beautiful state of Tennessee.

Needless to say, we have learned a great deal about moving over the years, and I am thrilled to be able to share some of that knowledge with you.

As always, be safe and smart with your choices!

Essential moving tools

Work Gloves.  Save your hands and your sanity with these soft and lightweight, latex-coated gloves. Atlas makes the brand we have used for years. They are comfortable, available in different sizes, provide an outstanding grip because of the latex-coated palms, and they are machine washable, too. The link will take you to Amazon, but you can also find them at department and home stores, for around $5-$8.

Free Moving Boxes.  U-Haul hosts a Customer Connect area on their website where you can “Connect with other customers to share or exchange boxes, moving supplies or rides.” I find that Craigslist and Freecycle are also good places to find boxes, as well as your local liquor store (sturdy boxes for books!). We’ve also asked folks who have recently moved if they’d like to get rid of their boxes, and they were thrilled to have us take them off their hands.

Free Packing Materials.  In addition to the places listed above, tap into your workplace or that of friends. My husband worked for a manufacturing plant, and he was able to gather lots of pre-used packaging: sturdy boxes, bubble wrap, and large sheets of plain paper. Not only was this double usage good for the environment, but it was great for the pocketbook! I have included free boxes and packing materials as essential because if you have to buy them, the cost of your move will be significantly higher. Just know you will need much more than you think!

Packing Tape Dispenser.  Whether you are packing boxes to store or move, be sure to invest in a quality tape dispenser. Not only will you be glad to have it at moving time, but it will become an indispensable part of your household toolbox. ULine, a family owned packing and shipping material business, carries several types. I like both the heavy duty tape model as well as the comfort grip dispenser, each under $20. In our house we have a saying: Buy once, buy quality, and that is especially important for tape dispensers and tape.

Pre-marked Tape.  Mark your boxes with at least the name of the room the contents came from. That way, you won’t have to constantly direct helpers to the place the boxes in the right part of the house. UHaul makes Smart Move tape that is both color coded and has messages so organization is easy. If you do a search on Amazon for Moving Tape or Labeling Tape, you will find more choices, too.

Evernote.  We went one step further beyond marking and numbering the boxes. We used the free software Evernote to list the boxes and their contents. Evernote can be accessed across your laptop, mobile devices, and your desktop, which is incredibly handy, especially when you are in the middle of a move. We were able to do a quick search in Evernote to find a specific item and just go to the correctly numbered box to find it.

Stretch Plastic Wrap.  Imagine heavy duty, extra-stretchy, Handi-Wrap on a handle, and what you have is an inexpensive tool—generally $8 to $20 for a large roll—you can’t do without. Rather than using rope, heavy tape, or ties, the stretch wrap holds things together with a minimum of effort and material. We especially love the brands, like U-Haul, that have a handle that allows for tension control.

Got unwieldy skis, poles, hockey sticks, etc? Put a bit of wrap at the top, bottom, and middle of the group. Want to seal the edges of those plastic tubs? Use the wrap. Want to make sure the ziploc baggie of screws stays with the furniture? Wrap them together. Just a word of warning: If you use this on finished wood furniture, it can leave marks if left in storage for months. Just saying . . .

Hand Truck.  We bought a little red beauty from our local Tractor Supply for $55, and it was priceless, especially since it’s rated for 600 pounds! You will be amazed at how handy these are to have around, and they are much easier on the back than carrying those bigger boxes and items. Amazon offers a lightweight, fold-up version rated for 250 pounds that has gotten terrific reviews, too: Wesco Steel Maxi Mover Folding Truck.

Forklift Straps.  These are the gadgety looking things you might have seen in the As Seen on TV! store displays, but don’t let the ads fool you into thinking these are junk. These straps are one of the most helpful tools for moving, especially in regards to keeping your marriage healthy and happy.  I get frustrated that I can’t pick up and/or manage bigger, heavier, things like my hubby can, and these straps help level that playing field somewhat. You can find them at home and department stores, as well as Amazon, starting at around $20 in black, safety orange, and pink, too! Consumer Reports tested them, and you can watch the short video here.

Big Slider.  Innovation and Technology News had this to say about this nifty moving tool:

It was invented by a woman looking for a way to move large items around her house when her husband wasn’t around. The resulting product is a flexible plastic sheet that can move up to 500 pounds on concrete. Best of all, no lifting is required – a person simply tilts, loads and slides the piece where it needs to go. The possible uses are endless; the Big Slider Web site even notes over 100. Among them, moving furniture, transporting machinery in a work area, and hauling bags of grass, mulch and fertilizer around the yard.

We just learned about this, and it is definitely on my list. Plus, think it would make a great gift for a college student, young apartment dweller, or folks who find themselves moving heavy things by themselves. You can learn more and buy it here, where the smaller Sliders start around $25.

Moving is difficult enough on your body, without the added potential of more stress in your life and relationships. Make your moves, whether across the room or cross-country, as easy on yourself and your marriage as possible with these essential moving tools!

Question: What is your favorite tool or tip for moving?

A thrifty DIY investment that pays dividends

By Kim Hall | Household Management

thrifty diy investment that pays dividendsIf you’ve bought your first home, you are familiar with the exhilaration of being handed your first set of keys and no longer having to tiptoe or keep the kids or pets quiet so as not to disturb the neighbors who are a mere thin floor, ceiling, or wall away.

You are probably also familiar with the list of projects that just keeps growing as the years pass.

I don’t recommend putting off almost all projects like we have in the past, only to later ratchet up the to-do list in an effort to get the house looking great so you can put it up for sale.

There is a lot to be said for choosing your upgrades wisely and being able to enjoy them while you still live in the home.

Improvements are not all equal

While all improvements are generally good for one reason or another, some can be an investment that will pay dividends both now and later.

A kitchen facelift is one of those projects, and the especially good news is that the actual experience needed is minimal, depending on how much you decide to change.

We moved to Tennessee last summer and recently purchased a home we love.

Although it met our criteria of being structurally sound and move-in ready, we decided to budget for sprucing up the kitchen because it was straight out of the 1980’s: dark mauve walls and equally dark stained oak cabinets with very dated hardware. Plus, there was a countertop we wanted to move about a foot higher to accommodate swiveling bar stools so our company could sit and visit if we were working in the kitchen.

Oak kitchen mauve walls before wm

Lay the groundwork, do the deed

After much discussion, planning, and testing, we decided to go with buttery yellow walls and a soft off-white for the cabinets. We also thought we’d attach vinyl floor tiles to the backside of the kitchen counter to give it a richer look that offset the white. They look like expensive ceramic tile when installed and are durable, hide the dirt, and easy to clean.

We made a plan, purchased the materials, and proceeded to clean, sand, paint, hammer, glue, and nail our way to a fresh new look.

While I couldn’t tell you the exact cost, I’ll share what I do know:

Hours spent: Many. Sorry, I just didn’t keep track.

Cost: $407. We already owned paint brushes, sand paper, etc, so those things are not part of this total. The cost did include a spiffy new faucet on clearance—$105—because the old one leaked. Also, when I used the old sprayer, it stuck in the “on” position and continued to soak me and everything else in range. If we had gone with just paint, new hardware and hinges, the cost would have been about $220.

yellow white kitchen diy after wm

Here are some of the dividends you, too, can enjoy, doing a project like this:

1. You get to work towards a tangible, short-term goal with your spouse. The time spent together can be joyful, and it can also provide practice in being generous with your patience. 🙂 For example, when my husband was placing the counter onto the brand new wood support brackets, he hit one of the brackets and broke it in half. The fix was simple, and he moved the bracket next to the wall where it won’t show. Problem solved, no fighting needed. If you are concerned about too much time together, however, I suggest checking out this wisdom from Dustin about co-puttering.

2. You get to enjoy the fruit of your labor. This is a huge improvement over hurriedly completing projects because you want the house to look good when you put it up for sale in the very near future. We’ve done it both ways, and living with the fresh new look and more user-friendly end result is much preferred. We enjoy such a sense of delight and satisfaction every time we walk into our newly bright and sunny kitchen!

3. You will find the space easier to keep clean. The Broken Window theory basically states that when a building is in disrepair, more damage is apt to be done. Conversely, when it is kept in good shape, it is less of a target. The same holds true for your home. While you may have tolerated and/or not even noticed everyday grime on your cabinets, you are much more apt to stay vigilant in keeping your new space clean and tidy.

4. You may be more comfortable having friends and family over. As Lisa-Jo Baker says, “If I wait for my house or my life to be perfect before ever inviting someone into it, I just might never let anyone in.” Like Lisa-Jo, I believe we shouldn’t wait for the perfectly decorated home before throwing open the door to generous hospitality. That being said, if freshening up or remodeling a space gets you comfortable with hospitality, go for it!

5. When you decide to sell your home, your efforts could pay off. Kitchens are important to buyers, and a brighter and more up-to-date space just shows better and is more appealing. Plus, you may be able to get a better price for your house. As the site notes, “Kitchens tend to be the heart of a family home so anything you do to improve your kitchen will add value.”


I believe paint gives a lot of bang for the buck, and I recommend it for most any room that needs a facelift.

If you would like to tackle a kitchen facelift but need direction, The Frugal Girl shared a practical how-to post here.

For more background on two DIY products that I consider must-haves for freshening and refinishing, read this.

One last thing: Do you remember my post about places to find free and nearly free stuff? My hubbie picked up the old-fashioned orange and blue soda framed print showing on the left wall in the photo above on a regular walk through our neighborhood. The homeowners had put it in a cardboard box with other items to be picked up in the morning with the trash. Yes, we did a little neighborhood curb shopping that evening. 🙂

Question: What DIY investment have you made in your home?

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Warning: Debt freedom can make you complacent!

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

debt freedom can make you complacent“We feel so stupid. What we were thinking? We are so much smarter than this.”

These comments came out of a past conversation with a fellow Financial Peace University graduate.

The couple, with college degrees, student loans, and decent jobs, had taken the baby steps to heart and began to budget their way to debt freedom.

In spite of continued pressure from their friends and family, they remained intrepid apartment dwellers, patiently waiting and building towards a brighter future.

They got debt-free, and when they felt ready, and after much searching and consideration, they bought a house.

Much later they began to panic, as they realized they weren’t ready financially for the true cost of owning the home they chose.

What happened?

 They learned debt freedom can make you complacent.

When my husband and I were working our way towards debt freedom, I read a cautionary tale from a fellow FPU Facilitator about moving beyond Baby Step 3.

At that point, you are a freshly minted debt free couple—woohoo!—and have a fully funded emergency fund.

He wrote that the inclination is strong to celebrate your hard-won progress by letting go of the tight grip you’ve had on your budget and loosening the purse strings.

You tell yourself you deserve it, you’ve worked so hard and for so long, and besides, you have so much more disposable income now!

Upon further conversation with the aforementioned worried home owner, this is what happened to them.

Truth be told, the complacency happened to us, too.

Frankly, I was shocked at how easy it was to slip into spending more and tracking less.

The start of the slide to complacency: Losing track of the true outgo

These unhappy homeowners started to do what they termed retroactive budgeting.

That’s the practice of logging into your budgeting software every month or six, and just matching your budget to what you spent.

It’s just so much faster, easier, and less limiting to do it that way. 🙂

Again, I speak from personal experience, too.

My husband and I have been guilty of this, and after a very, very long stretch of being pretty focused, we just did it this past month. Ugh.

But how do you miscalculate on a house purchase?

You begin to do what I call winging it, speaking from my own pre-FPU experience and that of my fellow FPU learners.

  • You are already not keeping really close tabs on your finances—retroactive budgeting, if you are budgeting at all—so you are missing the big picture.
  • The mental list of potential current and future expenses for your dream home is fuzzy and incomplete, but it’s probably close enough.
  • You lose perspective on what even a good home price means to your budget, so you don’t really crunch the numbers.
  • You want to have a family, and you neglect to fully factor those expenses and possible loss of income into your decision.
  • The bank is willing to lend you much more than you would need, so that must mean the home is well within your grasp.
  • There aren’t a lot of cute and decent starter homes in your city that are in good neighborhoods with a semi-reasonable commute, so when one comes up you just have to grab it.
  • You suspect your current income won’t be quite enough, but assume your future self will get raises and be able to cover expenses.
  • You love the house so much you completely lose your Walk  Away Power.

Basically, I believe you allow your inner Free Spirit the upper hand in making your financial decisions without the benefit and balance of input from your inner Nerd.

Consequently, you begin to regress to ostrich status, to that time before budgets, when you would stick your head in the sand and hope everything was going to somehow turn out alright.

Moving away from complacency

There are different paths back to active financial management and better decision-making.

Remember this is nothing more than a course correction for your good ship Home Budget.

As captain, you monitor your progress and regularly tweak your course to keep your craft headed in the right direction.

The typical correction doesn’t require returning to port and beginning again, although there are rare moments when that might the right decision.

Here are five places to start if you have become complacent:

Re-calibrate your perspective on budgeting. If you’ve gone back to thinking about budgets as being more like cod liver oil than peaches and cream, read this for inspiration.

Set yourself up for convenience. If budgeting is a hassle, you will avoid it, so you have to find a system that works for you. Dustin shares about YNAB here, a terrific piece of budgeting software. It’s what my hubbie and I use and enthusiastically recommend. Plus, it’s now free for college students. Hooray for free!

Take on a like-minded mentor who will teach and encourage you. Having someone to call who has walked in your shoes and is now walking the talk is priceless for providing guidance to help you move forward in your financial goals.

Ask someone to be your financial accountability partner. The thought of being transparent about your salary and expenses may make you hyperventilate, but I can’t recommend this enough if you and your spouse have difficulty climbing out of the complacency trap. This person will help you stay on track with your goals, but be sure this person can be trusted with your information. This is not a task to be taken on lightly. We have done it for other couples, and they have told us the accountability was critical to their progress.

Find experts to help you determine the true cost of purchases, especially for a home. As painful as it can be to see the cost of a potential purchase like a home spiral out of reach on paper, it is more painful to have the costs pile up, tip over, and bury you in real life.

Make no mistake: Debt freedom is a worthy destination and one that will bring you much joy. Like any journey, however, the better aware and prepared you are, the easier it is to successfully navigate the twists, turns and potential pitfalls.

Comment: What tricks and tips have you used to navigate through the bumps along the way to and beyond debt freedom?

Photo: Marcelo Jannuzzi via Flickr